Overuse of the word “trust”

The term trust is overused; trust means too many things to different people. In the global workplace. The term trust is thus rendered useless, for all intents and purposes.

For example, here is a dynamic between Germans and others with whom they work:  Follow the process and I will trust you; when I trust you, I will follow the process.

Or another example seen between Chinese and Americans: Mr. Wu and Mr. Smith sign a 40 million dollar deal. Then Mr Wu asks Mr Smith to hire his son for a year so that the son  can get a visa to the US. Smith does not trust Wu because he is corrupt. Wu does not trust Smith because “I just did him a favour, and he won’t even help me with my son”.

There are of course many more examples of words which lose their meaning in the global workplace; in a previous post I elaborated on the term  respect.

I have spoken over the years I have been consulting with thousands of people who do trust one another, and I have developed ten statements which operationalize what trust is. Here in the public domain, I will share 3 of the ten.

1) We represent one anothers’ views when the other party is absent.

2) We implement what we decide upon.

3) We assume positive intent.

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Culture and Lesson Learned Methodology

Within most global organizations, the same version of a “Lessons Learned” (LL) methodology is blindly used with all populations, despite the cultural and behavioural factors which inhibits the  effectiveness of the  lessons learned methodology.

Three  examples will suffice.

1) Let’s take the example of Holland, Germany, Israel and France where criticism can be well valued.

During the process of LL, overly positive statements may even be  seen as “ducking out”;  dwelling for too long about what went well is as boy scout-ism from which little can be learnt. The result of lessons learned in these cultures  is a list of things that went wrong, why and what needs to be done differently by whom the next time.

2) In many parts of Asia, public negative statements about things that have happened are avoided to enable save facing.

During the process of LL, communication will be oblique, indirect and low keyed and one will need to understand what was not said. Apology, humility and a promise to try harder next time are the publicly shared lessons learned that can be generated within these cultures.

3) In the US and Western Europe, the overdosing on politically correct can obfuscate lessons learned because the lessons, once learned, need to be cleansed linguistically.

Clearly all 3 cultures are ill suited to apply the same  lessons learned methodology.  Yet LL methodologies originate in western corporate headquarters and as such are based on one flavour suits all.

An interesting and value creating role for an OD consultant is to interpret the cultural script of a lessons learned exercise . Herein is a vast secret code which is fascinating to decipher. 


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Critical issues facing Organizational Development-revised

“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day;

The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,

And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,

A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.’

From Casey at the Bat –Ernest Thayer         Hebrew translation

Let’s look at the context in which OD is practiced nowadays and what this all means.

1) There is a severe economic crisis which has been going on for a long time. While some phoney “economic indicators” may look better than they did in 2008, the truth is that organizations are war zones in which people struggle not to join the ranks of the unemployed. Few people expect to have job satisfaction; “ satisfaction” is having a job. Since market conditions favour the employer and not the employee, people are no longer all that important. People have become spare parts.

The cornerstone of OD was to align the individual with the organization and focus on creating an environment which is good for the individual and for the organization. Thus, the relevance of OD’s value proposition appears bizarre at the present moment.

2) Professions should have professional standards. These professional standards serve as a balance and complement the commercial criteria by which professions are evaluated. So, a chartered accountant who has a thriving business but violates accounting practices will find himself in deep water.

OD is a poorly defined profession with no borders. There are no agreed upon professional standards. Thus, commercial standards are totally dominating how OD is practiced. OD has become a commodity, sold by an OD vendor, and the OD practitioner must satisfy the client. If the client does not know what he needs, this is irrelevant because you “follow the money” and deliver what has been ordered.

A cornerstone of OD was to “speak truth to power”. If one needs to “titillate” and please the “customer”, the ability of OD to delivery on one of its major principles is castrated.

3) OD was founded by White Western and European males, and the Western values of OD are  in line with those of the founders: participation, openness, authenticity, delegation, team work.

Organizations are now configured globally. In most of the world, there is more autocracy, more secretiveness, more discretion than is seen in the west; many of the values of OD are seen as parochial and irrelevant to the way people should operate, especially when they are threatened as people are in today’s economy.

4) As OD “stood its ground” and waited for the economy to “recover”, other professions cannibalized OD.

Change Management promises those in power that changes can be “managed” with a set of templates. HR’s disguising itself as a “business partner”, has cast aside/betrays the lobbying for the human resource and often serves as management’s 5th column to “deal” and contain the human resource. Unions and organized labour may/will fill in the vacuum. Certainly in the country where I live, re-unionization is rampant.

5) OD had a massive focus on communication. In organizations, people rarely talk too much any more; they text and email and use portals. A major domain in which OD brought huge value is shrinking.

6) Now that Corona has created unprecedented crisis and unrelenting change  in all organizations and systems, there is a new challenge to our relevance.

  • Jobs are very scarce. Very scare. Like 4 leaf clovers. And that means that it becomes an employers’ world: sans work-life balance; sans perks; sans engagement; sans paid vacation; sans lunch coupons.
  • Choppy choppy is back in season. 3 jobs will become one. Three departments will become two. Six engineers will become four. And until that happens, organizations will be war zones between people vying to be retained.
  • The roles and functions focused on gender equality and diversity will be totally marginalized and wither away. It’s a world of many people drowning and very few life jackets.
  • Dreams, vision and big ideas will be relegated to the back burner.

We need to be faster, more short term focused, less non-directive and far more creative, shaking off values which hold us back from being relevant in this economic catastrophe. This is a tall order for a profession so enamored by its past, and trapped in the values of another world which is dead and gone

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out

From Casey at the Bat –Ernest Thayer     Hebrew translation




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How can a US based manager deal with 3 difficult aspects of Israeli business culture



It ain’t easy managing creative people.There are hundreds if not thousands of US based managers who are managing Israelis, especially in R&D and Engineering.

The US based managers enjoy the hard working nature of the Israelis, the boundless  creativity and the pragmatic, no nonsense approach of “doing whatever it takes” to get the job done. On the other hand, the way that Israelis do business can be very annoying to US based managers.

I have a list of about 45 annoying things that Israelis do to American manager and how to deal with them. In this post I will deal with three of the more annoying behaviours.

1) Israelis argue all the time. Absolutely  everything (especially management direction) is up for debate. While this debate enables a lot of the creativity, it is often hard for a US based manager to manage the endless filibusters in order to “move on”.

The best way to deal with this is to let the arguing go on until “enough is enough” and then end it very forcefully by standing up, raising your voice, and tell them to stop arguing. You can do so in English, and if necessary in Hebrew. If there are two Hebrew words a US manager should learn, they are “tafsiku lhitvakech”-stop arguing. (תפסיקו להתווכח)

2) Israelis challenge authority all the time. If a US manager believes that once he has given direction “my word be done”, he will be in for a rude awakening. Israelis (like Aussies) are very suspect of authority and never acquiesce without a good fight. The upside is that you won’t encounter passive resistance, but you sure will encounter active resistance.

The best way to deal with the challenge to authority  is to absorb some punishment, fight back, and when enough is enough simple say….”the discussion is over-do what you are told”. The Israelis will respect this far more than a weak and politically correct hint, such as “get over it, guys”.

3) After a decision has been made, Israelis often return to the decision and try to re open it with new facts and opinions. More than anything else, this drives US managers crazy. The upside of this behaviour is that last minute changes often enable a more flexible response; the downside is that this flexibility is not scalable.

The best way to deal with this is to allow re opening of decisions in engineering and technical matters, and not allow this reopening of decisions in other less critical areas. When you do not allow an Israeli to revisit a decision, you may lose his trust, but take the risk, because otherwise you can spin wheels in endless debates.

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When communicating with a non confrontive culture, how to ensure that real agreement exists? (revised)


Many cultures shun confrontation of any kind in the work place, the most extreme examples being Thailand and the Philippines, as well as many other places in Asia, the Middle East and South America.

In these cultures, verbal agreement is given to show respect, give face, preserve harmony and avoid embarrassment.

So how does a Westerner go  about verifying if the verbal agreement being expressed is more than just “being polite”?

1) A very close and trusting relationship will inevitably over time enable you to get more “meaty” input.

2) Use a third party. If you have spoken to X and are not sure what she thinks, ask Y if X agrees with you or not.

3) Ask the same thing in many ways. Assume for example, that you have spoken to X to inform her that product documentation will be available only in English, and X must “manage the customer for at least a  year” until local documentation is available.  X has given an apparent yes.  To make sure, ask X, “Will the client think our company is arrogant?” “What are the risks?” “How will this impact your credibility”? “Please tell me risks I am not seeing”? “Would you prefer I change my decision?”

4) Listen to what is not being said. For example “that could work” is different than “that will work”!

5) Is body language affirming what the words are saying? If X is looking down or away from from you whilst agreeing, you have your answer.

6) Do not use cell phones or emails to verify understanding of complex issues. Be there in person.

A helpful glossary: 

  • This could work may mean-this won’t work.
  • I need to think about it, but it’s a good idea- may mean-rubbish.
  • I will do, may mean- I will do albeit I don’t agree.
  • Not bad, may mean- piss poor.
  • Yes, may mean-No.
  • Please explain, may mean- No.
  • Ok, may mean, -it’s your dime.

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Credibility can be more important than vision

Managers (especially those educated in the West) often feel the need to provide vision, hope and clarity of direction even in the most turbulent and uncertain waters. The managerial assumption is that people need hope and something to cling to. This managerial assumption has a cultural bias.One part of the cultural bias is that ambiguity needs to be mitigated because it is intolerable. Another part of the cultural bias is that stories should have happy ends, sort of “ all is well that ends well“ as a desired state.

Not all cultures have a need for management to provide this perceived sense of phony hope, especially if the provision of this hope compromises credibility of their manager. For many cultures, it is “ok` to promise blood, sweat, tears, criticism, temporary floundering and worse, as long as the boss is seen as credible,  technically competent, street smart and on top of things. The cultural bias herein is the overriding need for credibility, the willingness to let go of the perceived myth that we control our destiny and the tolerance for ambiguity in a hostile environment.

And thanks to GC for making me think.

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